Crossroads-Preparing for the High Holy Days

When I drive to work every day, I have to cross through a dangerous intersection. Unfortunately, at this busy crossroad, there’s only a two-way “stop” sign. I would feel much safer if the cars coming from all four directions had to stop.

As I stop, I peer over an incline to see if any cars are careening over the hill, I then look in the opposite direction. I check both ways a second and a third time to see if it’s safe and then I cross over to the other side.

Intersection of Shore Road and North Country Road
Intersection of Shore Road and North Country Road

Each time I need to cross over this intersection, I am a little anxious because the incline on the street perpendicular to me makes it difficult to see the cars approaching. I think: “will a car suddenly zoom over the hill, cross the road and hit me as I am in the middle of the crossroad?”

I am not usually a nervous driver. Yet this intersection leaves me feeling uncomfortable and unsure. I don’t feel safe until I am securely on the opposite side. And then my journey to continues.

I realize this crossroad that causes me agita is really a metaphor for our lives.

Each and every day, we travel along our own highway of life. Each of us – hopefully – does all that we can to ensure that we live our lives to the fullest and best of our abilities: we eat right, exercise, rest and do all of those other “good things.” But we never know what can come careening suddenly over the next incline: will it be an earthquake, like the one that just hit the greater San Francisco area yesterday morning? or illness? or something else for which we cannot possibly be prepared? What about our families, friends and loved ones?

How do we safely navigate these unforeseen obstacles that enter into the intersection of our paths on our life’s journey? Like the cars that come zipping over the hill, some things are simply out of our control.

The upcoming Ya’mim Nora’im – the High Holy Days, and the Hebrew month of Elul preceding them, help give us the tools so that we can chart our course and re-direct our life’s journey if we so need. We might not be able to control what happens, but we are able to approach our circumstances from a different perspective. We can find strength and support from within ourselves, from our community and from God.

The month of Elul begins tomorrow. Traditionally, Elul is dedicated to studying and preparing for the necessary work of “repairing our souls”. But this is not a once-a-year endeavor. The High Holy Days make us stop and take notice of the frailty of life. They remind us that we are on a journey, and that if we take the time to transform ourselves throughout the year – through reflection, prayer, study, acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and repentance, we will be prepared to enter that “danger-filled metaphorical crossroad” of life.

There are many ways to use this upcoming month to begin to prepare. Here are just a few ideas to help begin this process:

  • Join with your congregational community for Shabbat worship and study. The power of community, prayer and music has the ability to nurture and transform one’s spirit and soul.
  • Subscribe to Craig Taubman’s “Jewels of Elul”. These are short, inspirational insights on the theme of the upcoming High Holy Days written by different people, both well-known and not-so-well known: Jewels of Elul
  • Do some preparatory background reading. A few suggestions:
  1. This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, Alan Lew, Little, Brown and Co., 2003.
  2. Saying No and Letting Go: Jewish Wisdom on Making Room for What Matters Most, Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2013.
  3. Rosh Hashanah (or/and) Yom Kippur Inspiration, Contemplation, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, Jewish Lights Publishing.
  4. Machzor: Challenge and Change: Preparing for the New Machzor and the High Holy Days: Volumes 1 and 2, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 2014.

We each will encounter many crossroads in the journey of our own lives. The obstacles we encounter will seem less daunting and the more secure we will feel, the more prepared we are.

K’tivah v’chatimah tovah –May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year. ”




One thought on “Crossroads-Preparing for the High Holy Days”

  1. Dear Rabbi Sobel: I enjoyed your commentary on the “crossroads and preparation for the high holidays.” Isn’t there another route that you can take so not to endanger your life every single day? I like your metamorphosis comparing this to life in general, but there are certain things you can do to prevent a dangerous situation and yet prevent some of the obstacles of every day life. How are your preparations for the high holidays coming along? Can your membership attend the services in your sanctuary? Is it large enough? Will the old cantor be there and do you have a choir? We have attended several congregations for the past Fridays and I believe that we are selecting to attend Temple Solel. I like the Rabbi. He is bright and makes a lot of good sense for such a young man, but I still miss your wise words on Friday nights and I am still very sad about B’nai Torah, a situation which could have been prevented with proper leadership. Stay well and be cautious at the crossroad. Much love, Margot

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